Isabella Gomez may still be a teenager, but that hasn’t stopped her from making waves in the entertainment industry. As a young actress on the rise, Gomez has had the opportunity to work alongside some of the industry’s most highly regarded thespians. And now, with her breakout role as Elena Alvarez in Netflix’s One Day at a Time, Gomez is proving that she has the talent, skill, and drive to hold her own on the screen.
I recently spoke with Gomez about her experience working on One Day at a Time and why she’s so passionate about being an actress:
TARA MARTINEZ: How did the role of Elena come to you? What was your audition process like?
ISABELLA GOMEZ: Basically, my coach Kia Riddick had sent me an article that this sitcom from the seventies was being remade for Netflix and I read it and I thought it was great, but I was in the process of testing for another show. So, I didn’t tell my manager or my agency. I kind of put it to the side and then that other show I was testing for didn’t go through and then I got an audition; there was an article attached and it was the same article and it was One Day at a Time. And I thought it was crazy that it had already popped up like twice into my life. And then I went and auditioned and I felt really great about it. You know, there’s some auditions where you feel a connection to the project and you’re like, It went great! But then I didn’t hear back for a whole month. A whole month went by and I was like, You know what? It’s fine. I let go of it. Moving on to the next. Then after a month, I got a callback and I went to the callback and, you know, usually callbacks are three people in the room. You just record it for producers or whatever. But there was, I believe, like nine people in the room. Norman Lear was in there. It was insane. And then after that, it moved pretty quick. That same week I met Justina [Machado] and Marcel [Ruiz] and by, I think, Friday I was booked.
TM: So, what’s it been like working with a TV icon like Norman Lear? And the cast in general?
IG: It’s been incredible. You know, everybody says this but our show really feels like a family. Not only the cast but the crew and the writers and everyone involved. We all care so much about each other, so it’s really really nice because it’s not even like going to work. You go to the set every day and you goof around and spend time with your family. They’re incredible people. Norman Lear who I got to know as a person instead of the icon and it’s been amazing because he’s such a kind person and usually people are really intimidated by him because they don’t get to know him, but when you’re with him every day, you have to know him. And he’s incredible; he’s so sweet and, you know, he’s 94 years old and he’s still so curious and so open to input which is amazing. And of course, he has so much knowledge in his hands so that’s awesome.
And then Rita Moreno who is an icon, she’s incredible. She’s a ball of energy. That woman just turned 85 and she has more energy than the rest of us combined. It’s ridiculous. And obviously she has so much experience, not only in the acting field but in life. She’s lived for 85 years; there’s so much that you can learn from her.
And then Justina Machado who is one of the most truthful, genuine people I’ve ever met. You know, she’s been in this industry forever too but it doesn’t seem like it. She’s a normal person and it never gets to her; she always speaks her truth; she’s so professional but she’s so much fun.
And then everybody else—Todd, Stephen. Stephen would have the craziest stories. Sometimes you’d be on set and there would be a group of people by crafty and you’d be like, Stephen’s telling one of his stories! And you’d walk over there and, for sure, Stephen was telling some kind of insane story. Like, everything has happened to that man.
And then Marcel. We’re both only children and so it’s like we have a sibling now which is so weird to us because we like text each other and we argue like siblings. But we adore each other which is really cool.
TM: That’s awesome. Now, one of the really interesting things to me about the show is that I think it’s one of the few instances in which Latinos are portrayed in a very positive light—oftentimes we’re kind of reduced to stereotypes. How important was it for you that the show had a good message for young people, Latinos in particular?
IG: I think it’s awesome. You know, from one side, I’m a younger generation so I’ve gotten to see more of a positive note on my end. I haven’t been around for a lot of the negative stuff, but it’s really—Justina always says this, how we finally get to portray ourselves how we want to be seen which makes so much sense. You know, our cast is mostly Latinos and half of our writing staff is Latino, so we’re getting to tell our stories now which I think is so crucial. You know, there’s not a room full of white people writing for us. This is a real experience which is where representation matters. It’s real and that’s why I think so many people are connecting to it because they see their family and their childhood and themselves represented on the screen.
TM: So, in this first season we see Elena questioning herself and her sexuality. What was it like for you as an actress to carry that storyline on your shoulders?
IG: You know, I’ve had different reactions to it as we’ve gone along. At first, I was just really excited because it’s a challenge. You know, as an actor, especially being a straight woman, it’s something new to me. So, at first I was really excited and we got to mid-season where stuff with her sexuality started to really arise in the episode and it was just important because Elena’s character is based off of Mike Royce’s daughter and our writer Michelle Badillo, and they were on set all the time, so it was more like me trying to do justice to their stories and make sure that I was representing them as they would want to be seen and accurately. And then, as we got farther along, especially by thirteen, it became really heavy to me because I started realizing how important and how real this is. This isn’t just a story in our show; this is happening everywhere—and not only the great reactions I got from mom, grandma, and brother, but the reaction that I got from Victor. And so, it started getting a little heavier and once the show came out, I realized like, Holy crap. The whole world is seeing this and a lot of people are being affected by it. So, it does get a little bit intimidating, but at the same time, I’m so grateful that I have been trusted with this character and with this storyline and hopefully I can do justice to it..
TM: What would you say was your biggest challenge in bringing this character to life?
IG: I think the biggest challenge is that Elena is so complex and so cultured and knowledgeable, especially—my first language is Spanish, and obviously I know English, but sometimes that accent comes out or there are certain words I can’t say. And Elena has a vast vocabulary and she has so much knowledge, so she talks with really big words really really fast. And sometimes that was really hard for me, not only to say but also really wrap my mind around what I was saying so that it sounded truthful because if I don’t understand it, the audience isn’t going to understand it. So, I think that was my biggest challenge.
TM: I know you started acting at a very young age. What was it about acting that made you want to continue and pursue it as a career path?
IG: You know, I started really really young when I was around five or six and it’s just always been this feeling that I get when I’m doing it. I’m so happy and excited and it’s really my passion, as cliche as that is. And so, you know, throughout my whole life it’s what I wanted to pursue so I started in Colombia. And the industry there isn’t as big and there’s mostly just telenovelas and you—it’s harder. And so once I moved to Florida, it was amazing because I got to train and there were teachers that gave me all these tools, and once I started really learning about it and how to interact with characters and how to do character analysis and how to react and how to respond and how to be present, I fell so much deeper in love because it wasn’t just a silly thing I did and Look at me acting! It was something that I could do for the rest of my life which was really awesome. And then I booked Matador and I had a little recurring role there and I was on set with like Robert Rodriguez and Alfred Molina and Gabriel Luna and it was incredible to see these seasoned actors and directors create this art. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve seen more layers to what I do and each time, it just makes me feel better. So, that’s why I pursued it.
TM: When you look five years into the future, what do you hope to achieve?
IG: Oh my God. You know, I hope to be acting obviously, but this industry’s so unpredictable and—for example, Rita Moreno, she won an Oscar and then she didn’t work for three years. So, you can be an incredible actor and still not have work in this industry. So, you know, even if I’m not working, I hope to still be training and continuing to get better, possibly be in college—I’m not sure what career path I’m taking yet. I don’t know if I want to pursue acting in college or something else, maybe business. I kind of want to be doing something like—in Colombia there’s a lot of poverty and such and my dad and I have always been very aware of it, so if I could be at a place economically where I could help that, even if it’s just a little bit of families, not a huge organization, I would love to be doing that.
Be sure to watch One Day at a Time on Netflix. To learn more about Isabella, be sure to check her out on Twitter at @chavelua.